Women at the Negotiating Table With women comprising such a large percentage of the meeting planning world—and getting paid less than their male colleagues--a book to be published this October called Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide should be a hot read for this industry. Co-authored by Carnegie Mellon economist Linda Babcock and freelance writer Sara Laschever, the book doesn’t so much explore gender differences in negotiating styles, but instead focuses on whether women negotiate as much as men to begin with, especially when it comes to negotiating something for themselves. According to Babcock, they don’t.

"Women can be tough negotiators when they’re out to get a good deal for their organization or their attendees, but they’re not as good at asking for what they want when it comes to their own career development," says Babcock. "When you look at Association Meetings' salary survey (click here for the survey results), the men are getting paid more, even when the data is controlled for years and experience with the company, education levels, and other factors. If men are asking for more raises and more responsibility, they’re going to move up faster in the organization than women will," she says.

"Women have to take control of their careers. Success is not going to just come to you—you have to go out and get it for yourself." She cites one piece of the research outlined in the book that showed male college graduates being offered salaries that were $4,000 higher than the women—just because they asked for more and the women didn’t. And there are consequences to not asking: Women who see equally or less-qualified colleagues moving ahead of them get discouraged. They may quit, form their own businesses, or just find another job. "But those are just Band-Aids," Babcock adds. "What we need to change is the underlying problem, not the symptoms."

Some suggestions she offers include:
-Know that the world is a negotiable place—the status quo can change. Just identify what you want, then ask for it. "A lot of people we interviewed early on said that this alone turned on a light bulb for them," says Babcock. "While they didn’t always get everything they wanted, they were surprised at how much they could get just by asking."

-Search the Internet, your associations, trade journals, and other resources for information on the salaries of others in comparable jobs. Find out what benefits they get, what kinds of job titles they have, and what their training budgets are. And don’t limit yourself to asking your network of women, since because women still are only making 76 cents for every man’s dollar, they’re still undervalued and underpaid. And it’s even worse in the association meeting planning world where, according to the AM survey, women make as much as $20,000 less than their male counterparts, depending on their job title.

-Up your bargaining power by having another job offer in hand, but only if you’re willing to make the leap should negotiations falter. "If your employer doesn’t think you’re going to leave, he or she has little incentive to give you what you want," she says. And, since we still live in an imperfect world rife with double-standards for men and women, you have to do it in a nice way. "It’s too bad that that’s the advice we have to give, but the reality is women will still get pushback if they ask for what they want in too aggressive a way. Do it in a way that shows you respect and care about the other person, and that you understand their issues." But don’t be too nice. You’re only undermining yourself by saying something like, "I know the budget is tight and the economy doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better, but could you see your way clear to giving me a raise?" because that gives the other side an easy out.

-Role play the negotiation with a friend. "Women face an enormous amount of anxiety about the negotiating process, especially when it comes to negotiating for themselves," says Babcock. "Role playing allows you to think of what you want to say, how you’re going to say it, and lets you anticipate your boss's reaction and form a response."

-Start small. "Go into a store and ask for a price reduction on a sweater, or something like else that won’t make or break your world," says Babcock. Make negotiating on your own behalf part of your routine.

-Realize that negotiation doesn’t have to harm relationships if you do it in a respectful way. Think about why it would be hard for the other side to give you what you want, then find ways to counteract it.

-If you’re a manager, watch for unintended bias in your promotion and hiring practices. "Recognize that men and women ask in different ways. You need to pay attention to the differences to make sure you’re using your human resources most effectively."

-Separate the process from the goal. "What you ask for can be very tough, but you don’t have to ask for it in a super-competitive way," says Babcock.

Whether you’re negotiating a room block or a raise, Babcock says that negotiating doesn’t have to be an ordeal. "There are things you can do for me that would be easy for you, and things I can do for you that would be easy for me. We can gain a lot by trading those things," says Babcock, who eschews the "Conan the Negotiator" tactics touted by people like Start with No author Jim Camp. "We can be cooperative and still get what we want." Still, she adds, "It’s not about being nice; it’s about getting what you want."

Women Don’t Ask, which will be published in October, can be pre-ordered now on www.amazon.com.